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The Informed Parent

The Transitional Object

by Peter W. Welty, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Mar. 26, 2012

Many parents are aware that their children have a tendency to carry a soft cloth around with them, such as a diaper or a blanket. This object may be carried around with them during the day and often taken to bed. Many theorists believe that the soft cloth serves the purpose of providing them a reminder in the absence of the warmth of the mother. Such a tendency can be carried over to teddy bears or other soft stuffed animals.

Frequently this transitional object can serve a functional role. Of itself it is not indicative of emotional distress or poor maternal attachment. In fact, children who have transitional objects often report fewer sleep disturbances. They are more self-confident, independent and affectionate. Almost 75 percent of children between the ages of 18 months and 2 - 5 years have used a transitional object. For many children this object serves as a way for the child to develop a working memory, to gain control over his environment, and to develop the need for privacy and individuality.

Many theorists also feel that the transitional object is the child’s way of developing thought, fantasy and memory of the softness and warmth of the mother. When the object of the blanket or soft cloth is eventually given up the child gradually learns that he or she can continue the warm, close experience with their imagination an memory. This is how the child learns to develop his or her recognition memory.

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